Dallas city leaders have serious concerns about at-risk neighborhoods in southern Dallas.
On Monday, city council members took a look at the zip codes most at risk during the COVID-19 crisis. Many people in these areas lack access to medical care and online health screenings.
Aside from medical concerns, there are economic worries. Many worry families in distress will face even tougher times due to job losses during the pandemic.
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But there's a potential lifeline from a developer who says the pandemic isn't stopping some of the projects designed to help that area.
“We’re just trying to figure out ways through development that we can come up with solutions to address some of these challenges,” said commercial real estate developer Terrence Maiden.
Right now, he’s continuing to work with a team of developers on the Red Bird Development. Last March, crews broke ground on the mixed-use project at the site of the former Southwest Center Mall, bounded by Highway 67, I-20, Westmoreland and Camp Wisdom Roads.
Community leaders have considered the project a saving grace for the area because developers are focusing on more health care, jobs, grocery and healthy food options – all the things Maiden said families are desperate for.
“Those are major opportunities coming out of this pandemic that I would like to focus on. What sort of amenities can we bring to many of these communities that are struggling just to get their basic needs met?” he said.
And he wants residents to know that the pandemic hasn’t slowed down the vision.
“Fortunately because construction is considered essential work, we were able to forge ahead with many of these projects,” he said. “So that’s been satisfying to know we can make some progress with construction at this point.”
Works continue on a Parkland hospital clinic that should be open as soon as early 2021 and a project to build a UT Southwestern medical office is in the design phase.
Maiden said this part of the project is particularly important for families coping with the pandemic. According to researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Southern Dallas is one of the highest areas of the likelihood for COVID-19 hospitalizations. Some Southern Dallas residents are already considered at-risk, with obesity rates and poverty rates of up to 50%, asthma and COPD rates over 10% and diabetes rates of almost 25%, according to data from the American Community Survey Five-Year Summary from the U.S. Census Bureau and the 500 Cities Project from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"One major focus for us is being able to provide quality options for healthcare in the community. Having those two systems, Parkland and UT Southwestern is going to be a huge win for the community," he said.
Maiden – who was born and raised in Southern Dallas – is also the driving force behind the Glen Oaks Crossing development, an area at Loop 12 and Interstate 35 that used to be considered a grocery desert.
In the last few years, Maiden invested and developed the land into a retail hub, attracting major stores and restaurants like Walmart, Dollar Tree, IHOP, Wendy’s, QT and several other businesses.
“I’ve seen the decline of communities that surrounds the area and I really have a heart for the people that are there,” Maiden said.
The goal is to bring that same prosperity to the other parts of Southern Dallas hit hard by the pandemic.
Construction is underway for beverage and food retail in Duncanville and DeSoto. At the Red Bird development, construction crews are busy creating new streets in the empty mall's vast parking lots to support new stores, restaurants and apartments. More work is being planned for chef-driven restaurants and a call center opened just a few months ago in a completed area of the site, bringing in hundreds of jobs.
Developers told NBC 5 they’ve been talking to a number of different grocers to bring into the Red Bird development but the timing is all dependent on how the pandemic plays out.
Maiden said he is hopeful that when the dust settles from the coronavirus crisis, local city and county government will see how the pandemic has revealed dire needs in certain communities.
“There are many pockets of people that are struggling from poverty in the southern half of the city," he said. "Now with COVID-19, how do we envision our city going forward? How can we all participate in improving the livelihood of those that are less fortunate and disenfranchised?”